A Private War resolves as such an effective memoir because even in its most clichéd moments — of which there are many — it resists easy psychoanalysis.
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Anchored by Rosamund Pike’s powerhouse lead performance, this restive, raw movie slowly accumulates the heft to render its flaws irrelevant.
The most compelling reason to see A Private War is Rosamund Pike’s stunning performance as Marie Colvin, the American war correspondent who died in a bombardment while covering the Syrian government’s 2012 siege of Homs.
Honoring the journalist's sense of mission but never shying away from the hard living and psychological damage that went with it, A Private War relies on the believability of star Rosamund Pike, who commits to this take on the character even when Heineman risks pushing off-the-battlefield drama too far.
By the time the narrative comes to Colvin’s greatest get — she was essentially the first Western journalist to get inside Homs and refute Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bold-faced lie that he wasn’t bombing his own people into oblivion — the price of that sacrifice, and the power of her story, feels finally, fully real. Whatever her private battles, War works hard to be the public reckoning her work deserves.
A Private War manages to be simultaneously appalled by the humanitarian crises it depicts...and honest about the thrill that visiting such hot spots offered to someone who found it hard to readjust to her life in London between assignments.
Because it concentrates on her professional risks and accomplishments at the expense of the personal conflicts that give the film its title, it’s not a perfect film, but Rosamund Pike is so good in it that she’s certain to be remembered when the 2018 awards season rolls around.
Directed by documentarian Matthew Heineman, no stranger to war-torn lands himself, A Private War casts a bracingly intimate gaze, and yet sometimes has the tinny, expositional clank of based-on-a-true-story cinema.
Aside from the striking scenes occurring on the battlefronts, everything else in this picture is subpar. “A Private War” works off a disjointed script and tells a dull story, populated with forgettable characters. Pike throws herself into Marie, and the intensity of her commitment is palpable, but the flashy performance feels soulless.
Nimbly edited and directed with brio, this portrait of the legendary Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin represents a sure-footed leap for director Matthew Heineman from documentary to factually-based drama.